Mounds of Papers and Feedback

I’ve been navigating the perfect storm of the semester the last few weeks. I don’t know how it happened, but my courses aligned perfectly (or not so perfectly) so that the students in all of my classes were submitting major assignments at the same time. I probably should chalk it up to poor planning on my part, but I’ve been spending a lot of time providing feedback on student papers and their revised drafts.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’ve written about feedback a bunch over the last eleven or twelve years. Personally, I subscribe to Wiggin’s Seven Keys to Effective Feedback which outlines that for feedback to have an impact on student learning it must: be goal-referenced; be tangible and transparent; be actionable; be timely; be ongoing; be consistent; and progress towards a goal. I know that’s a lot to address, but basically it means doing a whole lot more than writing “Good job!” on a student’s paper. It involves setting a clear target for students and providing clear, actionable feedback to help students work towards the target. Reflecting on the feedback I provide to my students, I feel like I meet this standard pretty consistently.

The frustrating part for me is that sometimes I’ll provide feedback to students and won’t see that feedback addressed in future revisions. For most of the assignments in my classes, I allow my students to revise and resubmit their papers for better grades. And while I’ll provide detailed feedback on ways to improve their work, I won’t always see that feedback appear in students’ revisions. Some colleagues have advised that I shouldn’t grade those papers where students have ignored my feedback. Others have suggested that I have students write a revision audit outlining how they’ve specifically addressed the feedback I’ve given in their revision. If you’ve ever submitted an article for publication, this type of audit is common after receiving feedback from reviewers. Despite my frustrations with some of the revisions my students submit, I’ve avoided incorporating these policies. Honestly, they just sound like additional barriers that students need to circumvent to revise their work. I want my students to revise their work. But I also want them to incorporate the feedback I provide.

This morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and came across an article from ASCD titled Getting GREAT at Feedback. Initially, I didn’t think I’d find anything groundbreaking, but then I read the byline to the article: “The key to feedback is how it is received by the student.” That prompted more reading. In their article, the authors, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, offer a unique perspective on feedback. They write:

“However, a common misunderstanding is that it’s all about the amount of feedback given—and the more the better. But the key is actually how the feedback is received by the learner. The relationship between the person giving the feedback and the one receiving it is paramount in terms of how much ‘gets in.'”

To better address how feedback is received by students, Fisher and Frey offer a different feedback model that “forges trust, helps the hearer sense a positive motive, and is clear and informative.”  Drawing on work by LarkApps, they offer the GREAT model for effective feedback. I know, it’s kind of a corny acronym, but the dimensions are pretty thoughtful.

  • Growth-oriented: The delivery signals one’s intention as constructive, focused on improvement not criticism.
  • Real: Feedback is honest, targeted, and actionable (showing the speaker’s grounding in the area in question), not vague or false praise.
  • Empathetic: It combines critique with care and a quest for mutual understanding.
  • Asked-for: The speaker encourages the receiver to ask questions and seek more feedback, after offering brief comments.
  • Timely: It’s delivered soon after the task or learning is demonstrated. Feedback gets stale fast.

Reading through this list, it may sound similar to Wiggin’s Keys to Effective Feedback. From my point of view, however, the main difference is the intentional focus on care, empathy, trust, and relationship building, which makes a lot of sense. People are more likely to receive advice and feedback from people they trust. Although I’ve never done anything to make my students distrust me, I also haven’t explicitly attended to these areas in my feedback, either. If I believe teaching is about relationship building (which I do!), I have to apply that mindset to all areas of my work, including the feedback I provide.


One thought on “Mounds of Papers and Feedback

  1. Man, oh, man! There’s the rub, my friend – giving feedback that is welcomed and comes from a relationship of trust. It’s one of the reasons why I utilize a mostly un-grading approach to teaching. It gets the emphasis off of arbitrary letters and numbers and centers it on relationships and growth. Thank you for this timely reminder of what matters in feedback.

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